On the sad news of Dasaratha’s demise all the citizens, lamented aloud and shed tears. There was pandemonium all around. Vasishta, the chief priest and preceptor came rushing along with the ministers and summoned a few messengers and bade them quickly to Kekaya: “Tell Yudhajit,” said the sage as the message: “That I require Bharata and Shatrugna urgently.”
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The errand bearers departed on their horse back at once. When they reached Kekaya, they told Yudhajit:
“Noble king, sage Vasishta requires the immediate presence of princes Bharata and Shatrugna. Please send them with us.”
“What must have happened to my father or to my brother?” thought Bharata since his mind was restless and anxious.
Somehow they reached Ayodhya. The entire city seemed motionless, lifeless and soundless. As they reached the court, Bharata could not behold Rama or Lakshmana anywhere. He went straight to mother Kaikeyi and saluted her.
He then asked his mother: “Mother dear, where is my father? I have grave misgivings and worry in not seeing him. I have never seen you before without his presence?”
“What is the reason for your worry?” asked she: “I have willed and arranged everything for your future prosperity. Your father has reached that world of blessed souls who made many Aswamedha sacrifices and spread fame unto the heavens.”
Hearing this spike like words of his mother, prince Bharata fell on the floor like a chopped tree and started lamenting aloud.
As her son was sobbing like this, Kaikeyi helped him get up and wiped his tears. “Why do you lament like this, my dear son? Be composed. What is the use of getting hurt by sorrows? All is God’s decision. I have brought all opulence and favours due to you.”
Hearing this Bharata asker her: “Didn’t my father utter anything at the time of his heavenly departure?”
“Yes,” she said: “He repeatedly lamented aloud taking the names of Rama, Sita and Lakshmana.”
Bharata, very eager on hearing this asked: “Why, were they not around when our father died?”
In reply to this question, Kaikeyi said casually: “As your father was about to coronate Rama as the heir-apparent, I thwarted that and insisted that my son should be given the power to rule the country. I shall tell you the details. Your father had offered me two boons earlier. With one, I have sent Rama to the forest and with the other I have snatched kingdom in your favour. Sita, the embodiment of chastity, followed Rama. Lakshmana also accompanied them. Father, with deep sorrow of their separation, cried repeatedly taking their names and died.”
Shocked by this thunder-bolt like words of Kaikeyi, Bharata fell on the ground unconscious.
When he recovered, Kaikeyi asked him: “Why do you weep like this? The lordship of the country has become yours. Leave away your pranks and enjoy the royal pleasures alone. Come.”
When she said this, Bharata gave her a piercing look as if to burn her alive and at once proceeded to where Kausalya was. As he touched Kausalya’s feet and saluted, she hugged him and patted him all over.
The frail and tearful Kausalya said: “All these misfortunes befell because of my son Bharata was away. To console the sobbing mother Bharata told her: “Mother, don’t be grief stricken. I have never had any idea of Rama’s coronation and I have never been a part in the conspiracy in sending Rama to the forest. If I have any role, let me undergo the most dreaded sin of annihilating my father or guru.”
“I know you are totally innocent, my son.” Having said this Kausalya again hugged Bharata and wept. Hearing the conversation sage Vasishta rushed the spot along with the ministers. Sage Vasishta gave a tender and very compassionate look to Bharata and told him to prepare himself to perform the last rites of Dasaratha. Bharata did all this on behalf of his elder and younger brother.
KK Shanmukhan( To be concluded )